Anastazja Korczak, the initiator of the Brave Kids project reveals the beginnings of a courageous idea, and talks about unobvious cultural differences and the engagement of Polish families in the Wrocław-based endevour
Anastazja Korczak (born in 1984) was engaged in the main Brave festival as a volunteer right from its very first edition. She is the co-author of the Brave Kids project, and between 2010-2011, Korczak was the festival’s executive producer and the director of the Brave Kids educational programme. Earlier, Anastazja Korczak taught firetwirling and circus techniques to children and teenagers in Sweden, Norway and Siberia. In the 1990s, she was engaged in Przestrzeń (Space), an independent theatre, circus and musical initiative. Since 2007, she plays the surdo and is part of a woman’s batucada band called Mamatucada.
Culture.pl: What are the origins of the Brave Kids idea?
Anastazja Korczak: Towards the end of the '90s, I was working with Przestrzeń, a group which was mainly focused on street theatre. We were five juggling teenagers, and yet we got invited to an internationl festival in Poshgrun, Norway. When we were asked about who we were, and what it was that we were doing, it forced us to reflect upon this question ourselves. Thanks to the fact that we encountered people from across the entire globe, and thanks to the fact that we won this festival, we got a great boost of energy. After only three months, we managed to gather a group of 100 people in Wrocław, organise juggling, circus and musical sections, and get together a huge parade.
Later, when I was working with Grzegorz Bral on the Brave Festival, I kept on thinking about doing a “new Brave” project. I wanted to take the main ideas of the festival and transmit them onto a plane that was particularly significant for me - that of young people and contemporary culture. In 2009, I found the first group called Break Dance Project Uganda. Simultaneously, Grzegorz was running a theatre project with kids from Nepal. And we invited these two groups to the main Brave Festival. This in fact turned out to be a pilot-run of the future Brave Kids project.
Everything fell into place straight away?
No, it was a disaster! But I clenched my teeth and I took charge of the project. It was still a part of the main festival, but I became responsible for it, and I invited more groups. I was already convinced that the project has to have a formula in which children teach each other, that we can’t have a pre-estalished choreography. The idea of cooperating with families from Wrocław also worked out well.
The leaders who came with their groups to the 2010 edition of Brave Kids engaged in a discussion about their stay in Wrocław, and also talked about the specific issues that children encounter in their regions. The kinds of problems that they face, and their ways of solving these problems. This is how the base of the Brave Kids project came into being: "kids teach kids", the seminars, and the family-stays.
Each year, a different artistic group coordinates the children’s workshops: in 2010 it was Christopher Silversten and Maria Sendow from Awake Project, in 2011, we had Anna Krotowska and Łukasz Sosulski. It’s yet another piece of the whole puzzle.
photo: courtesy of Brave Kids archive
What kind of groups do you invite to Poland?
They are artisitic groups for children and teenagers. Sometimes they are unaware of they way in which they practice, and in other cases, they are quite consciously using it for a significant social change. Brake Dance Uganda are very clear about the way they use this dance form. There are some 150 different tribes in Uganda, which lack a common language. Breakdancing becomes a means of communicating with each other.
In Sweden, young people come to the community cultural centre to take part in drama and theatre classes. They are not instructed or told that both Swedish and immigrant teenagers are going to participate. They are not made part of any ideology, they simply dance, play and act. It's similiar with the Roms from Czech Republic - they simply dance together.
How did you go about finding the participants?
I found them through the internet. We also invited groups from Poland. During my research, I came across Jean Paul Samputu, the founder of the Mizero group in Rwanda. In kinyarwanda, the word mizero means hope, and this group was founded in 2006 by Samputu, a musician and a peace-activist. He works to find support for the hundreds of children who were orphaned during the genocide. One of the group's projects consisted of an attempt at reconciliation between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes through the act of singing together.
My future dream is to invite really small groups, which lack any kind of support. They could really benefit from the chance provided by the Brave Kids project the most.
How do the children who take part in Brave Kids relate to the main Brave festival?
I think it's significant that the two project take place simultaneously. Everywhere in the world, the young are always pushing to be as contemporary as possible. With this project, when they visit us they can see that a local musician they might consider cheesy, is in fact one of the stars of the main Brave festival. It's also important for the group's leaders that the West has a respect for their traditional culture. When you live in a small village, a fast motor bike, coca-cola and the disco are something cool, but a granny who is banging on a drum is "totally cheesy". And these kids come to country which like America for them, and they see that it's the granny and not the disco that is centre-stage here. It makes a significant impact. I think that the loosening of cross-generational bonds and the dwindling down of a sense of belonging within your own culture is one of the most catastrophic problems today.
Why do the children stay with Polish families?
These children are often orphans, who lack the experience of a family life. We didn't want them to stay in a hotel for three weeks. It's not just the question of giving the children from Rwanda the chance to experience a Polish home, but it's also important to change the idea that people in Wrocław have of these people.
I wanted these children to somehow communicate who they are and where they came from to very ordinary, regular people who are not necessarily explorers or travellers. It worked out beautifully this year. The children are hosted by quite wealthy families as well as families in which four people live together in two small rooms.
I am also aware that throughout the course of the project, these dwellers of Wrocław made contact with each other. I think it's important, because the Polish society not only lacks cultural diversity, but it's the economic divisions are also becoming increasingly felt.
A lot can happen over three weeks of living together in a family environment...
The Rom families surprised us, because they in fact came before the projcet's launch in order to check what kind of conditions their kids will be staying in. The Roms dont's eat any food that was prepared the previous day. They can only eat fresh things, cooked on the same day. It takes a while before you find out all these things.
When a cellular phone was lost, we all thought it got stolen, but we announced a misplacement. In fact it turned out that there was this girl who would often hide things, only to triumphantly find them - it was her particular way of winning recognition in the group. She also "found" a pair of shoes that we hadn't yet started to look for.
A five year old Roma boy announced upon his arrival that there is no way that he will play with black "Vietnammers" - this is the name used by the Romas for all coloured people. But only ater 5minutes, he was piggy-back riding with one of the older boys from Uganda. And, for example, the kids from Zimbabwe had the custom of tasting the earth in any new place that they arrived in.
We also hosted children from Rwanda, where it is now commonly announced that the Tutsi and Hutu are one, that there are no differences. But it fact, mass murder keeps happening. These children arrive here thinking that the whole world knows how terrifying things are in their country, that they are the suffering centre of the universe. They encouter children from Chechnya, and then they discover that other people also suffer and face incredble hardships.
There are also the volunteers, who devote three weeks of their life to support Brave Kids. Man people are thus given a chance to learn something: te children, the leaders, artist, volunteers, the local families.
What kind of difficulties are you faced with?
Two basic ones: lack of time and lack of money. It was also quite difficult to find families, but this was probably due to the lack of a campaign, i.e., once again - lack of money.
In 2011 a group from Palestine was stopped at the border. These people were preparing for 4 months, they children and teachers had to convince their own families, get passports. The host families in Wrocław went through special training, and prepared the menus... In the end, follwing 48 nervous hours, the Palestinians happily arrived.
Do you always invite new groups?
We search for new groups and we nurture the old ones. One particular person is allowed to take part in Brave Kids no more than twice in a row. Usually each group consists of 6-7 people, two old participants and four new ones.
It once happened that a participating group was convinced that they were taking part in a competition. They couldn't understand that there was no rivalry and no main prize, and that everbody is teaching each other. Similiarly with the lack of payment. There are benefits for the both sides, but they are not material. Unfortunately a man from the West is often simply expected to pay. It's a sponsoring kind of relationship, which isolates both parties involved. But when a common goal and idea takes over, we become partners.
What will the future of Brave Kids look like?
I would like to facilitate the participation of kids and teenagers who are not affiliated, and are not part of any group. It would also be wonderful if our project could be developed on a nation-wide scale. All of the participants would gather together for the grand finale, and one would be able to see how strong their voice is. I would also like for the groups to meet up as a forum, in order for them to decide about themselves, and what they want to leave behind.
This year's edition of the Brave Festival takes place between the 2nd - 7th of July 2012. For more information on Brave and Brave Kids, see the festival's official website: bravefestival.pl